The Online MBA degree has exploded in popularity in the past few years, but completing one takes money, time and effort. So, what can it do for you, personally and professionally?
For most Online MBA candidates, their aims range from wanting to move up in their current company, to exploring opportunities in a different company or sector. And some of them thinking about starting their own businesses.
When it comes to the employment outcomes, schools note some changes in perception among the big players in Online MBA recruitment. “Over the past few years, we have seen the distinction fade away between recruiters of Online MBA graduates versus Executive MBA graduates. As the offering and quality of Online MBAs has increased, so has the acceptance by employers,” says Yolanda Habets, head of MBA programs at Vlerick Business School in Belgium.
She also reports changes in employment destinations for Online MBA candidates. “For 2023, we see an increased interest in MBA graduates in healthcare and biotech. With the growth of innovative technologies, including predictive and preventative healthcare, the industry really looks at MBA graduates to manage that growth and innovation,” says Habets.
“We see a similar trend in the food and beverage sector. The past few years accelerated much-needed transformation, and many companies have taken this as an opportunity to innovate, introduce new technologies and ways of delivery. To support this growth, they are looking at MBAs.”
Additionally, consulting recruitment remains strong with the demand shifting from more general consulting towards specialized areas such as mergers and acquisitions, supply chain and logistics, change management and restructuring, adds Habets.
Companies seeking Online MBA students are the same companies that hire full-time MBA candidates, says Rebecca Cook, executive director of Kelley Career Services at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.
“Online programs have become a great sourcing pipeline for all kinds of companies and industries, with students available on a just-in-time basis, and in line with the normal hiring market. Companies don’t need to wait until May or June to snap up these candidates – they are available year-round,” she says.
“From our standpoint, companies in all industries are open and interested in hiring online students for roles across the value chain. Our students tend to be a little older with more work experience than our full-time MBA students, so they have been able to move into higher level roles.”
What skills and capabilities do employers want?
Adam Schpall, an assistant director and MBA career consultant for the Robert H. Smith School of Business, in the US, says employers are looking for skills related to leadership, strategic thinking, communication, the ability to work collaboratively and network, as well as analytical thinking, problem solving and resilience.
“You will notice that a lot of these skills are soft skills, as many of them can’t be farmed out to the bots,” he adds, in an apparent nod to artificial intelligence.
It’s still important, however, to make the most of the Online MBA experience in order to reach the next level in your career. “Getting an Online MBA from a reputable program brings a lot of opportunity to increase marketability and build connections,” says Schpall. “As for courses, a student would be wise to look at their course options closely and choose those in which they can learn and enhance the skills that will be most desired in their target career.”
Students can talk to their academic advisor and career coach to help achieve such clarity. For example, if a student wants to go into finance, taking elective courses that relate to the kind of finance they want to do, whether investment or corporate, would make practical sense.
When it comes to the extracurricular activities, Schpall says it the student should take part in many of these as possible. “At Smith, we offer virtual mock interviews with alumni, virtual career fairs as well as in-person events in which the student can build connections,” he explains. “We also have other co-curricular practicums, such as the Impact Consulting Fellowship through our Center for Social Value Creation, in which students serve as consultants to a non-profit.”
The importance of Online MBA networking
Although Online MBA students are usually studying virtually for the most part, “nothing replaces the opportunity to network and interact with recruiters in person, and we’re seeing that beginning to return to campus post-pandemic”, says Stephen Rakas, executive director of the Masters Career Center at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in the Pittsburg.
“However, the more flexible options provided by virtual recruiting in the last few years has leveled the field, to the advantage of Online MBA students,” he adds. “I believe some level of virtual recruiting is here to stay because recruiters have enjoyed casting a broader net for the last few years and they often can’t travel to every campus.”